New Toyota RAV4 2019 review

We get to grips with the latest version of the Toyota RAV4 compact SUV…Verdict3.5There’s much to like about the new Toyota RAV4 – an excellent chassis, decent practicality, impressive efficiency and strong BiK figures. It doesn’t deliver the last word in driver involvement but as comfortable family transport, it should find plenty of customers, particularly among those choosing their next company car. It falls down badly, though, in the sort of connectivity and smartphone integration that buyers are demanding in ever-increasing numbers. Fix that, Toyota, and an extra half-star is there for the taking.

The Toyota RAV4 may be a relatively modest seller in the UK, but it is a model of global significance. Back in 2017, before the last generation started to be phased out, it was the fourth best-selling car on the planet – and the best-selling SUV of them all.

Over the 25 years since the original RAV4’s debut, though, a plethora of similar vehicles has arrived – to the point where Toyota’s offering has risked becoming ‘just another SUV’, swamped by dozens of rivals.

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So for this fifth generation of the RAV4, Toyota has ripped up its rulebook on conservative styling and come up with a sharp-edged, square-wheelarched creation that should stand out a mile compared with the likes of the Hyundai Tucson or the Volkswagen Tiguan. Will it be for everyone? No. But that’s the point; this is a car that will excite some and repel others, and that, for Toyota, is better than to provoke no reaction at all.

This individuality doesn’t stop at the styling either, because in the UK at least, the RAV4 is being offered as a hybrid only. Specifically, it’s called a ‘self-charging hybrid’, which is marketing-speak for an electrified vehicle that you can’t plug into a wall socket.

In the case of UK RAV4s, in fact, there is just a single powertrain on offer – referred to by those marketing bods (yes, them again) as a ‘Dynamic Force’ engine. In reality it’s a 2.5-litre four-cylinder Atkinson-cycle petrol engine paired up with an electric motor, offering 215bhp in front-wheel-drive RAV4s or 219bhp in 4×4 versions. And because this car is hybrid only, it is also automatic only – or rather, a CVT only. 

Under it all is yet another iteration of the Toyota New Generation Architecture (TNGA) platform – the same modular set of chassis components that has already impressed us beneath the C-HR, Prius and Corolla. The suspension configuration is familiar too, with MacPherson struts at the front and a double wishbone set-up at the rear.

The front-wheel-drive model takes 8.4 seconds to reach 62mph while the AWD edition, which has an extra motor on the back axle, trims three-tenths of a second off that figure. And CO2 emissions range from 102g/km to 105g/km – no higher.

Toyota is launching the car with four trim levels – although the cheapest of them, Icon, is only available with the front-wheel drive layout. Still, standard specs look decent enough. That entry model brings dual-zone air conditioning, rear parking sensors and camera, automatic headlights and wipers, an 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system and 17-inch alloy wheels.

Step up to Design and along with the option of four-wheel drive, you get navigation built into the infotainment system, keyless entry and ignition, a powered tailgate, front parking sensors and 18-inch wheels.

Excel is next up, with leather upholstery, heated front seats with electric adjustment on the driver’s seat, a heated steering wheel, ambient cabin lighting and headlight washers. And then there’s Dynamic, which is roughly the same spec as Excel but gets styling add-ons including a different design of 18-inch alloys, a contrast gloss-black roof colour, sports seats and projection LED headlights.

All RAV4s, incidentally, get Toyota Safety Sense 2 as standard. It brings adaptive cruise control with lane departure warning and steering assist, a pre-collision system including pedestrian detection, automatic high beam headlights and road sign recognition.

On the road, the RAV4 is a curious mix. This generation’s body is 57 percent more rigid than the outgoing model’s, and this – coupled with the TNGA underpinnings – makes it a surprisingly capable performer on twisty roads. It shirks the worst body roll excesses that you find with SUVs, and the front end turns in crisply, with steering that’s direct and nicely weighted. Barring the worst hooliganism, it doesn’t suffer much from understeer, and it is admirably amenable to sudden changes of direction.

It’s comfortable, too. Our Dynamic test car was on the larger wheels but there’s more than enough compliancy on pock-marked roads. Indeed, we’d go as far as to say that the RAV4 has every bit as much sophistication to its ride as, say, the Skoda Kodiaq or VW Tiguan, and probably more than a SEAT Ateca or Ford Kuga.

These traits promise to reward the driver more than you might expect in such a tall vehicle, but Toyota’s hybrid powertrain isn’t quite willing to play its part in that. It’s not that it’s unrefined or inherently unsorted; it’s more that the Hybrid Drive principle of having an engine speed not entirely related to how fast you’re travelling, is a just an insurmountable obstacle to driver involvement.

Yes, you can use steering wheel-mounted paddles to play with the ‘stepped’ ratios in the system, particularly under braking, but it’s always going to ignore you and do what it thinks is best once you’re back on the throttle.

Recognise this fact and adopt a smooth, relaxed approach and you’ll find the 2.5-litre set-up fast enough for most situations, including around town. And there’s no doubt that the larger capacity and increased torque mean that when the CVT revs do go skywards – and yes, they still do, from time to time – they tend to be shorter blasts than you might experience in, say, an older Toyota Auris or Prius.

When you’re cruising on the flat at motorway speeds, you’re unlikely to hear much engine noise at all – although this is as much down to a fair bit of wind rush from the side mirrors as it is the refinement of the latest powertrain.

Most of our meaningful mileage was in a front-drive Dynamic but we also tried a four-wheel-drive edition on some pretty badly rutted and muddy terrain. It acquitted itself well – enough to persuade us that this RAV4 has more than enough ability off road for the type of person who’s going to buy one. There’s no discernible pay-off in on-road performance either.

Inside, a 30mm stretch in wheelbase over the old car means that there’s space for four adults – and five could travel in reasonable comfort for a decent length of time. The boot is pretty practical, too; there are is 580 litres on offer with the rear seats in place (79 litres more than in the Mk4 RAV4), and 1,690 litres available if you fold them down.

These figures look competitive enough against, say, the Nissan X-Trail, which musters 565 litres as standard. But the Toyota’s ultimate capacity is some way shy of the Nissan’s 1,996 litres total and on the whole, its loadspace isn’t a patch on what you can get in the (much cheaper) Skoda Kodiaq or the (similarly priced) VW Tiguan Allspace. Still, we wouldn’t argue with Toyota’s claim that the RAV4 can swallow a full-size mountain bike without taking the wheels off, so it should be more than spacious enough for most family uses.

The interior quality is hard to fault – the RAV4 feels well enough built to last beyond the natural three-year PCP cycle without any rattles or squeeks. But, as is often the case for Toyota, the finish is functional more than luxurious. There’s a smattering of double-stitching and soft-touch materials in the places that matter, at least. 

The layout is broadly functional, too, albeit with a few extra buttons low down between the steering wheel and the door that are hard to find without taking your eyes off the road. We like the chunky, heating controls, however, with their rubberised finish that makes them easy to grip with cold hands.

Our car had a panoramic rear-view mirror, which takes a feed from a camera just inside the rear hatch glass and shows it on a digital screen integrated into the usual mirror housing. It takes some getting used to, but ultimately shows a wider-angle image so we could see its benefits, in time.

It’s certainly more helpful than the eight-inch infotainment system, which is probably the single weakest point of the vehicle. In hardware terms the screen looks slightly lower-resolution than what you can get in a VW or even a Kuga. And the interface is classic Toyota, with a clunky approach.

Worst of all, the smartphone integration is lamentable in this day and age, with not even the option to add Android Auto or Apple CarPlay, so you can’t bypass the in-car system in the same way that you can with, say, a Honda CR-V. Toyota sources say engineers are “working on it” but this functionality – standard on most of the RAV4’s rivals and at least optional on pretty much all of them – will not be available at launch.

As a pure hybrid, of course, the RAV4 is pretty much in a class of one – and that makes price comparison tricky. On the face of it, an SUV of this size with a starting figure just shy of £30,000 looks pretty expensive compared with the likes of the Kodiaq.

But then you need to factor in the effect those low CO2 emissions have on Vehicle Excise Duty (£135 across the range) and, more importantly, Benefit-in-kind taxation for company car choosers. The entry point of the RAV4 range, that front-drive model, has BIK of just 21 percent – and every other version is 22 percent, regardless of how many driven wheels they have. Toyota reckons a RAV4 user-chooser will save more than £120 per month in tax over a comparable Tiguan petrol or diesel.

Key specs

  • Model: Toyota RAV4 Dynamic FWD
  • Price: £34,400
  • Engine: 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol-electric hybrid
  • Power (total system): 215bhp
  • Transmission: CVT, front-wheel drive
  • 0-62mph/Top speed: 8.5s/112mph
  • Economy/CO2: 49.2mpg/105g/km
  • On sale: April 2019

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